‘Shadow,’ by Lucy Christopher, illustrated by Anastasia Suvorova.

Today’s my stop on the blog tour for ‘Shadow,’ Lucy’s first picture book. As well as a special about about the inspiration behind writing the story, I’ve also recorded a podcast interview with Lucy, talking in more detail about the themes and processes behind creating the book.  Listen HERE.

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The girl and her Ma have just moved to a new house, and although she’s been assured there are no shadows lurking anywhere, the girl finds one under her bed. The two become firm friends until Shadow runs off to play with its friends in the woods, leaving the girl alone.

I enjoyed the fact that this story could be interpreted on many levels. Firstly, as a frosty fairytale about a young girl and her newfound shadow friend. But deeper than that, it could also be read as a tale of loneliness or loss, with the shadow representing a darker feeling. There also seems to be a distance between the girl and her Ma, with Ma appearing sad herself. These underlying themes would make this story a good vehicle for exploring mental health and opening up conversations with children about their emotions.

My RECENT Inspiration behind writing SHADOW by Lucy Christopher.

In my debut picture book story, Shadow, a young child moves into a new house where she finds a shadow under the bed who she makes friends with. Together they make mischief and run away, only to be found again by Mum. It’s a story about loneliness and sadness and how this might manifest itself in the very young. Ultimately it’s a story of an awareness of darkness – and shadows – and of coming together.

I wrote the first draft of this story several years ago. I wrote it very quickly, the words tumbling over themselves to come out on the page. I was in the middle of writing The Killing Woods, a difficult book about tough subjects for young adults, and I was completely stuck. At that time, I was wrestling with my own shadows, with so many doubts about whether I could finish the book or actually write at all. My creativity seemed to exist only within a dark place. I found the text to SHADOW a bit like how its protagonist finds the actual shadow in the story – in a dark space in my room when I was meant to be doing something else. I spent time with my shadow too, playing and causing mischief,throwing down words while staring at the blank page of the novel I should have been finishing. I made mischief by writing the words to SHADOW instead, and it felt good.

When I was done, I had no idea what to do with the words. I didn’t write picture books; I wrote for teenagers. Besides, I was on a deadline. In fact, I was past my deadline. So, the story for SHADOW sat in a desk drawer for many years. One day I had a conversation with Emily, a good friend of mine who is also an artist and an art therapist – she was looking for ways to engage with her young clients. I brought my story out again to show her what I’d done, and to ask whether this could help. She was inspired by the words and even drew some preliminary sketches for the story herself. Her images were beautiful, full of dark and colour; they inspired me to go back to the story and write a second draft.

Second draft done, and once again I sat on the story. I showed the publishers for my young adult novels, but being publishers for older children they felt they couldn’t publish it, though they did suggest some helpful changes. Eventually I showed a couple more publishers, publishers that did work with younger ages. However, the reaction was always the same – it’s a beautiful and important story, but it’s too dark for our list. It was only after a chance meeting with Alice from Lantana that I began to regain a little hope for the story.  Alice told me she was looking for stories that spoke to issues of mental health. She wanted Lantana’s list to represent diversity in terms of mental wellbeing issues too. I sent her the text and crossed my fingers. The answer was an immediate yes.

Lantana then brought a wonderful illustrator to the project – Anastasia Suvorova. Her illustrations wowed me immediately. She actually seemed to see inside my head and understand this story! Her images added to the feel and tone of my words, with colours that moved from greys and blacks to oranges and red, reflecting the central transition from loneliness to togetherness. Her illustrations added a wonderful fairy-tale feeling to this story too; the setting of the story in snowy Russia heightened this perfectly.

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SHADOW was a long time in the making, both within my own mind and within its journey to the bookshelves. I hope it is a book that can be shared and enjoyed by younger and older children alike, maybe even adults. I hope it is a story that will encourage discussion about themes of loneliness, sadness, and, ultimately, coming together.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of this book for yourself, visit Lantana’s WEBSITE. For every book purchased through their site, another one will be donated to a U.K. children’s hospital.

Library Girl.

Please feel free to download this colouring sheet by the book’s illustrator, Anastasia Suvorova:

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